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Most know the childhood rhyme, “Mary, Mary quite contrary.” But aside from it and jesters, the role of the contrary is largely unrecognized or lost altogether. That’s unfortunate because being a contrary is a serious or even sacred responsibility entrusted to a few spirits able to bear the cost. It’s a little easier for us today to see the contrary in Native American traditions where the contrary (or opposition) was a voice respected for slowing decisions and its ability to reveal a view outside the popular and necessary for a more whole appreciation of events. A common image of the contrary in some native tradition is someone who chooses the difficult path of walking backward and of sleeping in the day and working at night. The living presence of such an individual in the community is a daily reminder that there are other ways to approach life than the one stuck in our heads as normal or correct. Similar to dedicated clergy, a contrary enacts a sacred role.
It’s understandable that ornery or brazen behavior can come across as being contrary, but usually it is not the real thing. Acting contrarily can be a show or expression of an unhappy personality. The true contrary is known by the content of what we can best (or perhaps only) call a true heart. Of note (I recommend readers look this up) is the Welsh expression “Calon lan” as current use of a contrarian position. A contrary sacrifices self and ease for the duty of expressing a pure heart. The Welsh song says this better than I can. In any case being contrary is not a matter of making complaint or getting in people’s faces with your virtue. Contrariness is not offensive. Its nature is to instruct through example.
A native tale illustrates the role and complexity of contrariness. Needing to move, a group comes to a river. They need to cross, but an old woman (tradition) refuses to do so. Various members in the group try to persuade her, but to no end. She continues to refuse until a contrary young man talks to her and she then agrees to cross the river if he’ll carry her. He agrees and so the group is able to cross. But on the other side the old woman refuses to get off the contrary’s back. She won’t budge until he sits with his back close to a fire that causes the old woman to pop off the contrary’s back. In a simple, understandable form this tale is as good an explanation of social elements as any we might find at much greater length. The contrary knows who they are and will openly speak or act at the right time and with willingness to pay whatever the cost contrariness might bring them.
Actually, once we’re reminded, we can see examples of the contrary show up in many places and forms. In one parable the contrary appears saying “Mea culpa.” In another setting the contrary declines personal honor over crediting their team. The contrary is often the champion of the other or the group. Laudable as I find contrarian characteristics they have their own fatal flaws. Not every contrary will know how to be convincing to tradition or know how to get it off their backs if they succeed. An excess of or obsession with contrariness becomes a personal flailing easily as and equal to the consequences of greed or pride. All traits are multi sided. Over emphasis of one side can grow into a dark side. Whether a thing bring light or shadow is answered inside the heart, but most importantly I feel by the effort to understand and see clearly as we are able.
Disagreement of opinion doesn’t necessarily give the necessary contrary view and may be no more than quibble over details of the non-contrary views of the status quo. Patient understanding is as much a part of the contrary as breath is to life. It may appear contrary when a person says “These other views are stupid,” but what do you thing? Does that sound ego or contrary? I don’t see honoring the contrary in assertions that only one perspective is correct and other points of view are wrong and have nothing to contribute. That sounds more like majority tyranny than acceptance of minority participation. A claimed defense of liberty or diversity is neither when the result enforces obedience.
There are other ways to define and look at the contrary, the other voice, or whatever fits your stance. But supporting the position I’m sure there has to be an underlying constructiveness that has to be there as an inner check on the dangers of difference acting as disagreeable and negative in intent. A contrary voice begins critically with itself.
This gets too weighty, doesn’t it? If I’m going to be a contrary voice I want the result to be fun, and maybe just a touch challenging. I’m game for a few. Are you? Daylight Savings sets off the usual arguments. I don’t and won’t bother unless and until I see a real clock based on metrics. What’s with the awkward use of 24 hours and sixty second minutes? Wouldn’t that all be better in a nice orderly metric system. Works for money, doesn’t it with 100 pennies to the dollar. And the calendar needs work as well. We get rid of a few months to make ten and parcel out the days. A twenty hour day and ten forty-day months does it. With visionary central control this can be done. By its nature wouldn’t universal health care expand both the covered and coverage? If care is my right who’s going to say plastic surgery augments are less important to individual rights than gender changes? And let’s include eyes, glasses, contacts, and dental with our pack of health rights.
I love Adam Schiff. Just think, with smoother speech, air-worthy ears, and a dark tan he’d be our next President. If Trump is ousted as Gorbachev was who will take the role of Yeltsin?